The success of 2016’s Your Name paved the way for a certain wave of anime films arriving on either the big screen or even on streaming services, which is the high concept teen romance movie. Whilst shōnen anime like My Hero Academia and Demon Slayer will make the jump to feature film and will crush it at the box office, titles like Mamoru Hosoda’s Belle will catch as much attention and hopefully the latest from Wit Studio, Bubble, will capture audience’s interest as it is streaming on Netflix.
Bubble is set in the near future, where following the descent of mysterious bubbles in Tokyo a catastrophe has plunged much of the metropolis under water and introduced strange vortexes in the area that defy gravity and explanation. Left abandoned by the government and its people, the once thriving city has now become a playground for groups of wayward youths to perform their skills in Parkour. As the stoic star member of the Blue Blazes team, Hibiki (Jun Shison) meets a girl, eventually named Uta (Riria), who seems to have some connection with the bubbles.
From its opening sequence, in which we see our detached protagonist being saved by someone who he initially sees as a mermaid, the film is essentially an update of the Hans Christian Andersen fairy tale The Little Mermaid, which is even referred to as a book that Uta becomes fascinated with. This is obviously not the first time that tale has been the inspiration for an anime feature, most notably Hayao Miyazaki’s Ponyo, but this is the first sign of this film’s narrative problem.
Despite its three screenwriters, including Puella Magi Madoka Magica co-creator Gen Urobuchi, many of the film’s plot developments do feel like a catch-up to what has been going on with the aforementioned wave of teen-centric anime films. This may sound unfair towards the film, but if you’re a frequent viewer of that particular anime, there is a sense of retreading water when watching Bubble (no pun intended).
Given its high concept premise of a wrecked city with a lack of gravity but a lot of bubbles, it is simply used as a Parkour playground where gangs rival one another in races where you never feel genuine conflict until halfway through when the sci-fi element really comes into the fray. Many of the characters are defined by Parkour and whilst there are some fun interactions among the Blue Blaze members, there isn’t a great deal of development. The central relationship between Hibiki and Uta does carry enough emotional weight, particularly for the former who is very talented, but there are other areas where he is lacking, such as communication, which comes from his Auditory Sensory Disorder as explored in a heartbreaking flashback. He does have a compelling arc about human connection and all it took was his relationship with someone who is basically a fish out of water.
Along with Wit Studio, you also have director Tetsurō Araki and composer Hiroyuki Sawano, key players behind the first three seasons of Attack on Titan. The kinetic energy from that show, in which the Survey Corps swing around with their ODM gear, is replicated through the Parkour sequences where the 3D camera swirls around to see the hand-drawn characters interacting with the digital environments whilst Sawano’s score just slaps, creating a wave of emotions. With original character designs by Death Note co-creator Takeshi Obata, Wit Studio presents some jaw-droppingly detailed shots of light shining on character’s faces and they are just the best.
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